Monday, September 29, 2008

wait a moment

The little weekly group of photographers I shoot with decided to try to explore the 'decisive moment' over the weekend. The aim was to try to emulate the style of Henri Cartier-Bresson. One image that was discussed was Heyres. That's the town the picture of the cyclist, above, was taken. I looked at this and pondered if Bresson found this location then waited for a while to see what might come by. Was this purely a reaction shot to the cyclist, or had he considered the great framing opportunities of the staircase and road, then waited for the right moment for that scene? I'm sure talent and luck play a large part, but as ever I think that luck favours the prepared.

I did a bit of searching to see what I could find out about this picture and ended up listening to a Jeff Curto podcast on the image. Jeff has a similar view to mine, maybe there are other negatives, with a couple strolling by, or someone pushing a handcart that we've never seen. The editing of these decisive moments is important too.

Over the years I've felt that I've recognised great scenes, or stages, with the potential to have a moment that brings them to life, but maybe haven't invested the time or developed the patience to wait on the real drama to unfold. Along similar lines, I've started putting more people into those scenes that I've recognised, trying to manufacture the potential that I could see, with greater or less success. In either case, it is something alive or changing that animates the scene - a person, an animal, something that gives a sense of the passage of time. More than anything perhaps that's what makes the moment decisive - it has to have the potential to be just a moment, there and gone, rather than a static scene. Certainly the decisive moment is that zenith of the action when everything comes together, but for so long, my images didn't even have that potential.

Also while looking for more info on the image at the start of this post, I found this flickr discussion. Apparently context matters. Not sure if that is a damning indictment on the state of photography just now and the level of online discourse, or a telling insight into the rose-coloured glasses that we view the work of the greats of photography.


Paul said...

"Apparently context matters. Not sure if that is a damning indictment on the state of photography just now and the level of online discourse, or a telling insight into the rose-coloured glasses that we view the work of the greats of photography."

I read through part of the discussion and found it rather funny. I think that if the discussion was real, which I think that it was, people were giving their honest opinion. I wonder if the opinions would have been markedly different had those who offered suggestions for 'improvement' would have known who actually shot the photograph. I think so.

There's something intimidating, I think, about critiquing the work of a 'master'. :-)

Good luck on your decisive shots.

Anita Jesse said...

Another great post, Gordon, and Paul has hit on some extremely interesting points. The Flicker discussion is a rare entertainment (remember when Mike Johnson posted his satirical entry on photo-group discussion forums?) Still, I don't dare laugh too hard because I am so ignorant of photo history that it wouldn't be difficult to set me up for something like this. I also took away a great deal from your comments on your own experience with capturing the decisive moment. I look forward to seeing where this takes you.

Paulo Bono said...

I have long admired this photograph because it was one of the first examples I recall noticing of the power of what I now think of as the camera's lack of fidelity. I know that's off your point a bit here, but I think a good photograph should be a glimpse, rather than a bloody autopsy.

The Moment: Can a 'lucky' confluence of elements be decisive? I mean, if no decision was actually made? In this case, I like to imaging that a decision was NOT made (i.e. that it was not a staged moment), but that instead a prediction was made. "Here are some elements, perfectly ordered, and I predict that the moment I want may occur here" ... something like that. However, it still takes a lot of luck or a lot of exposures, because assuming a reasonable speed for the bicycle and looking at the apparent distance it would cover from first appearance to this moment, Henri simply could not have reacted that fast for a deliberate decision (he'd have about 0.5/sec at most, I'd estimate, based on 30ft/sec velocity and roughly 15 feet of visibility).

That's why I like your observation about 'potential'. That's how I think this photograph happened.